Do Yankees really need Carl Crawford?

If it's only a matter of money, then Carl Crawford will be a Yankee in 2011, because the New York Yankees have never allowed money to stand in the way of getting something -- or someone -- they really want.

But there is a difference between want and need, and what the Yankees want might be very different from what that really need.

When George Steinbrenner was alive, the line separating want from need wasn't just blurred, it often didn't even exist.

That is why Jason Giambi became a Yankee, and Gary Sheffield, and Kevin Brown and Randy Johnson and Carl Pavano and a host of others who passed through the Bronx, took away a lot of money and left precious little in return.

But these are different Yankees now, being ruled by the heads of businessmen rather than by the heart of an obsessive fan.

And the question they are wrestling with is, do the Yankees really need Carl Crawford?

I mean, really, really need him?

The signals coming out of the Yankees bunker, where GM Brian Cashman has been huddling with the Baby Steins for the past four days, is that they probably don't.

Last week, in a conversation with a high-ranking Yankees official, the subject of Crawford inevitably came up.

And the Yankees official was pretty definitive on the subject.

"I wouldn't expect it," he said. "We're pretty happy with our outfield."

And why shouldn't they be?

Curtis Granderson, despite raising some early-season doubt among the men who brought him over from Detroit and took on his five-year, $30.25 million contract, rebounded to have a terrific final two months and a fine postseason.

Despite doing a second straight October fadeaway, Nick Swisher improved on his surprising 2009 and appears to have a solid hold on the right-field job for at least one more season.

And Brett Gardner? What can you say about this guy other than he is chaos waiting to happen every time he gets on base? Or that runners who challenge his arm do so at their extreme peril? Or that there is no Yankee more selective, some would say maddeningly so, at the plate than Gardner?

Or that he is the player most likely to be displaced if the Yankees decide they really, really, really want to see how Crawford looks in pinstripes next year?

The question is, do we really need to know that?

This is not to try to make the case that Gardner is as good a player as Crawford, or in any way even a similar player. Right now, Crawford is a bit more of a ballplayer than Gardner is. But is Crawford, who will command somewhere in the area of $15 million a season, 30 times the ballplayer Gardner is?

Because that is pretty much what the Yankees would have to pay to find out.

Gardner will never be a power hitter and even though Crawford is not exactly a slugger, his average of about 15 home runs a season -- his career high is 19 back in 2004 -- is probably beyond Gardner's reach. At 5-foot-10 and a listed 185, Gardner is about as big and strong as he is ever going to get.

Hitting where he generally does in the Yankees lineup, either at the top or bottom, he is not likely to knock in 90 runs, as Crawford did this season.

But what Gardner is, is precisely what the Yankees need in their batting order. A pest.

A guy who wears pitchers out with his patience at the plate -- he saw more than 200 pitches more than Crawford did this year in nearly 130 fewer at-bats -- and a guy who turns sure-handed fielders into panicky stumblebums with his speed on the lines.

A guy who can create runs without hitting the ball or having anyone behind him hit it. A guy who rattles pitchers, catchers and infielders alike. A guy whose game, like Crawford's, is heavily speed-dependent, but at two years younger and 30 pounds lighter, more likely to hold on to that aspect of his game longer.

There are certainly areas in which Gardner can improve. He struck out way too often, 101 times, and 44 of those were looking. That is the flip side of being too selective at the plate.

But coming off his first full season in the majors, the odds are Gardner is only going to get better. Coming off his eighth season as a regular, chances are Crawford has already been as good as he is going to get. The Rays probably had the benefit of his best years. Whoever gets him from here probably buys only the privilege of financing his decline.

And at $452,000 a year, Gardner is a heck of a lot more economical than Crawford will ever be. If, of course, such things mattered to the Yankees.

Money, of course, is never an issue in the Bronx, but getting entangled into inescapable long-term contracts always threatens to be. Already, the Yankees are locked into a dreadnought with Alex Rodriguez, who will be used up long before his 10-year, $275 million deal is paid off.

Same goes for A.J. Burnett, who so far has collected 33 million Yankees dollars and delivered 23 Yankees wins, and many times that in disappointment and frustration. He still has three years to go, nearly $50 million to pocket, and who knows how much more, if anything, to deliver?

And there is a real possibility the Yankees are about to lash themselves to another albatross with Derek Jeter, who is about a year away from being too old to play shortstop but will still probably get a four-year contract.

Then there are the five years remaining on the contract for CC Sabathia, who is coming off knee surgery, and the seven-year deal they just can't wait to give to Cliff Lee.

To that potentially toxic mix, is it really a good idea to stir in another five or six years of Carl Crawford?

If Granderson, Swisher and, especially, Gardner hadn't developed as well as they did this season, you might be inclined to say yes.

But now, the only reason to do that is if Hal and Hank Steinbrenner fall victim to a bout of Boss-itis, the inability to distinguish between want and need.

The Boss' Yankees might have scooped up Carl Crawford simply because he was out there, and, well, The Boss wanted him.

These Yankees sound as if they might pass for a much better reason.

They don't really need him.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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